Seeking out local food choices for Restaurant Week

Food. It’s a very important aspect of a Swattie’s existence. I have heard people complain about not being able to eat because they are overwhelmed with work or because the colors on the plates are rather monochromatic … again. Then, in my mind at least, the cries of delight during Caribbean Bar and Local Food night are almost akin to a school wide holiday. I guess that what I am trying to say is that people tend to talk about food. And with good reason, since food is more than a mere necessity.

Generally, I am going to be talking about one specific aspect of dining: the ingredients, specifically ingredients that come from local sources. Personally, I believe that eating local food is both better for the environment and better for the body, taste buds included. There have been many works written discussing the benefits of eating locally and/or organically, but the purpose of this column is not to persuade people to become locavores (a clever term used for those who eat local food — like carnivores for meat, only hopefully less ferocious). Michael Pollan, author of many books about food, such as “The Omnivores Dilemma” can do that far more effectively than I can.

Should one not have the time or inclination to read “The Omnivores Dilemma” (I still haven’t), I would recommend checking out the quick summary provided by Fair Food Philly for information about the benefits of eating local food. In this column, I hope to provide information about affordable ways for Swatties to find local products to eat if they have the inclination to do so.

My motivations for writing are rather personal. As mentioned previously, I think local food is delicious. I want to eat delicious food, and I would rather not spend a lot of money on it. I should also probably mention that I am neither an especially accomplished cook nor an especially accomplished farmer. My qualification for writing this column — apart from an externship at a boarding school with a farm in Iowa and the few times I volunteered at local farmer’s markets back home in Georgia — is that I like to eat. Hopefully, I will be able to provide useful resources for those who tend to get a bit tired of the standard campus dining options.

Over the course of the semester, I plan on exploring local farmers’ markets, local options offered by Sharples and the Co-Op, and the Philadelphia food scene, among other topics. However, the subject of this week’s column is the annual Restaurant Week happening in Philadelphia from Jan. 22 to Jan. 27 and Jan. 29 to Feb. 3.

For those unfamiliar with this marvel, Restaurant Week is a phenomenon that occurs twice a year, during which a whole host of restaurants in the Philadelphia area agree to one price for all their meals. Each restaurant that participates offers a prix-fixe $35 menu for dinner, and some offer a $20 dollar menu for lunch. Please note that neither tip nor tax is included. While $35 is hardly cheap, and in fact I hope that this will be the most costly food offering that I will ever discuss in this column, the value is nevertheless worth noting. For instance, at one of the restaurants participating, Le Bec-Fin, the least expensive January prix-fixe menu is $85.

During Restaurant Week this past fall, I went with a few friends to Fork, a restaurant in Old City known for its organic menu. I suggested this restaurant to my friends because of its emphasis on local food and the large array of red tractors on the side of the menu. Center City District’s online menus for Restaurant Week include symbols of red tractors, indicating that some of the food in the dish comes from local providers.

Looking at the menus of the restaurants participating in the week, it’s evident how many local options they have. While this is not the only way to choose a restaurant, I would argue that it is one of the better methods. Doing so could perhaps encourage restaurants to use local ingredients — and even leave the person feeling better after eating. Perhaps it was only psychological, but I felt surprisingly energized and alive after eating at Fork. I was perplexed as to why until I realized the possible correlation (and yes, I know correlation does not imply causation) between the food I ate and my new-found state of contentment.

So, if you are planning on splurging in the future, I would recommend considering going into Philadelphia for restaurant week and looking at menus online for the red tractors. Personally, I will be returning to eat at Fork; I am very much looking forward to ordering their “Local Pumpkin Risotto”. After a cursory and somewhat random skim through some of the restaurants participating, I noticed that other places also have a plethora of red tractors: Amuse at Le Meridien Hotel (they only offer dinner), C19 Philly Cichetteria Venezia and Square 1682. While I have not eaten at any of these restaurants, I have almost no qualms about suggesting that you try them for the simple reason that, in my experience at least, places that take care finding local ingredients, also take care in how they cook said ingredients.

If you have any questions about eating locally, please do not hesitate to contact me. Next column I am going to be writing about ways to get local food within walking distance of campus.

Happy Eating.

For more information, visit www.centercityphila.org/life/RWRestaurants.php and www.fairfoodphilly.org/links/why-buy-local.

Amelia is a first-year. You can reach her at adornbu1@swarthmore.edu.

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